James Cameron, Jeremy Renner hit Beijing film festival
There was plenty of Hollywood to go around on the opening day of the second Beijing International Film Festival on Monday. The day started with a morning screening of Marvel's "The Avengers" and finished with a gala that included popular vocalist Wang Leehom playing the piano and singing “As Time Goes By” from “Casablanca” while images of Humphrey Bogart floated across a backdrop. An orchestra even played a medley of Hollywood scores, from “Star Wars” and “Titanic” to “Mamma Mia!”
But if overseas visitors had any doubt about how China perceives its role in the movie world, the opening night gala provided ample reminders that it envisions great things.
Between acrobatic dancers performing in rich silks and a shrill processional conjuring Peking Opera, Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong, the festival’s honorary chairman, nearly shouted at classical oratory volumes at the roughly 2,000 guests packed into the China National Convention Center theater for the three-hour gala.
Touting the six-day Beijing event as a better draw than its veteran competitor -- the Shanghai International Film Festival, which will turn 15 this June -- Guo said that the Beijing event was meant to define the capital as “a national cultural center and contributor to the exchange and prosperity of the world film industry.”
As Guo and Zhang Pimin, deputy director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, belted out their speeches, their prepared remarks were projected onto giant screens for the few hundred foreign visitors in the audience, including, in the front row, James Cameron, director of the current China box-office hit “Titanic 3D.”
“Film is the common culture for mankind and it is what draws us together onto this stage,” Zhang said. “As an integral part of the world film culture, China’s film industry is witness to and records the unique national personality and aesthetic features of the Chinese nation, generating wide and profound influence both at home and abroad by making positive contributions to the development of world culture."
Cameron flew 15 hours to get to the Chinese capital and he had nothing but praise for the festival’s organization, even if organizers' boasts of success about taking Chinese films overseas may have rung a bit hollow.
Of the 10 Chinese films from last year that organizers showcased in a portion of the opening night program dedicated to honoring exports in keeping with the central government’s wishes, none has racked up substantial ticket sales outside of China. They included titles such as “Go Lala, Go!” and “The Flowers of War," starring Christian Bale.
“It’s an unbelievable privilege and honor to be here at the 2nd Beijing International Film Festival. This is certainly an historic occasion and it’s so beautifully produced and quite magnificent,” Cameron said, moving quickly back to business, marveling aloud at how fast China’s cinemas are multiplying.
“There are still thousands of [Chinese] towns and counties waiting to get their first movie theaters ever. And when they get them, they’ll be in digital 3D,” Cameron said, noting he’d experienced the upside of this rapid expansion. In the last two weeks, “Titanic 3D” has made as much money here in China as it has in all other international markets combined, Cameron said. “Not only is rapid growth in the number of theaters unprecedented, but the embrace of 3D, and the cinema-going experiences are breathtaking."
He said he was heartened by the fact that Chinese cinema fans want in-theater experiences.
“In an age of streaming video watched on iPhones and tablets, the Chinese audience has spoken resoundingly, that they love watching movies where movies were meant to be seen, on the big screen,” he said. “China is a force to be reckoned with.”
— Jonathan Landreth in Beijing
Photos: (top) Jeremy Renner, star of the new movie "The Avengers," on the red carpet of the Beijing International Film Festival at China National Convention Center. Credit: Feng Li/Getty Images. (bottom) James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis arrive for the opening of the Beijing International Film Festival. Credit: How Hwee Young / European Pressphoto Agency